05 May 2021

Saint Patrick’s, Ahane, is
a Co Limerick ‘island parish’
in the Diocese of Killaloe

Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, Co Limerick … an ‘island parish’ in the Diocese of Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

On the way to visit the Clare Glens at the end of last week, I stopped in the mall village of Ahane in east Co Limerick to see Ahane Barracks, which was supposedly built to protect Sir Richard Bourke, and to visit Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, built at the same time on a site donated by Sir Richard Bourke.

Ahane is 3 km south-east of Castleconnell, Co Limerick, and together they form one parish, often referred to as an ‘island parish’ because this is the only parish in Co Limerick that is in the Diocese of Killaloe. The parish is in a triangular pocket in north-east Limerick, between Co Clare and Cp Tipperary.

Tradition says Saint Patrick visited Castleconnell and blessed the people of Clare from that side of the River Shannon River. He is also said to have foretold Saint Senan’s arrival in the area. Saint Senan, the son of a druid whose family was converted to Christianity, continued Saint Patrick’s work among the people of Stradbally and from there Chistianity spread, to Killinagarriff or present-day Ahane.

Killinagarriff was described by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary (1837) as a parish partly in the Barony of Owney and Arra, Co Tipperary, and partly in the Barony of Clanwilliam, Co Limerick.

Inside Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, looking east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The name Killinagarriff means ‘the little church of the rough place.’ Local lore says the first church was built there in the ninth century by the Ryan clan from Carlow, who also built churches in Kilvulane (present-day Ballymackeogh), Kilmastola, Killoscully, and Kilnarath.

The early church in Killinagarriff was said to have been built of small and large stones cemented with lime and sand mortar. The west gable had a small belfry built of cut limestone. It was said to be so small that only women could worship inside the church, with the men standing outside the church door.

Tradition says that when Inchiquin’s parliamentarian forces attacked the church during the Cromwellian wars, a Father Ryan, fled with the sacred vessels and the bells and threw them into the river, where they were swept away in a flash flood, never to be found again. It is believed locally that a Father Heffernan celebrated the last Mass there in 1648.

However, Lewis says it was a Church of Ireland parish church that was destroyed in the war of 1641. It was rebuilt and continued as the parish church, but by 1837 it had fallen into ruin. The church ruins are surrounded by a graveyard.

Local people in Ardvarna later set up a ‘Mass Rock’ that was used by the people of Ahane until 1758. Permission to build a Roman Catholic church in Ahane was given in 1750, and a mud and wattle ‘Mass House’ was erected near Biddiford in 1758.

The arch surrounding the west door in Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, is said to come from Quin Abbey, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Saint Patrick’s Church replaced this ‘Mass House’ and was described by Lewis in 1837 as a new church. The church was built by the parish priest, Father Crotty, on a site donated by Sir Richard Bourke. As with Saint Joseph’s Church in Castleconnell, there was much local involvement in building the church. A builder named Coughlan from the Mardyke in Limerick erected the church.

The arch surrounding the west door came from the 13th century Franciscan Abbey in Quin, Co Clare. It is said three men went with horses and carts, stayed overnight and returned the next day with the arch, which remains a prominent feature to this day.

Francis Speight, a local politician, donated the timber and supplied the slates. The building project was interrupted when ‘The Big Wind’ caused damage in 1839, blowing down half the roof. However, work resumed, stones for the church came from a local limestone quarry at Ballyvarra owned by Paddy Maher, and the Howley family of Richhill donated the bell, said to have come from India.

The original altar was a wooden structure, surrounded by a timber altar rail. Inside the railings were two seats, one on either side of the altar, one for the Howley family and one for the Graham family.

Inside Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, facing the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In previous years, the church had three rows of pews; two side rows of small seats and a row of large seating in the middle, with pews ‘owned’ by various families in the parish. A similar practice existed in Saint Joseph’s Church, Castleconnell.

The Nevin family of Mountshannon donated the wood carved Stations of the Cross in the church. They were originally intended for a convent chapel in Bonn. Nevin bought them in New York in 1906 and donated them to the church in Ahane to commemorate his daughter. The Nevin family also donated a statue of Saint Teresa.

Three major renovations took place in Saint Patrick’s Church within the past century. The renovations under Canon Patrick Devaney, who died in 1940, are recalled in a plaque erected to his memory. The new roof and repairs were designed by the Limerick architect Edward Francis Ryan, who practised from 88 O’Connell Street (1939) and 24 Upper Mallow Street (1941).

While the church was being renovated, Mass was celebrated in the old schoolhouse in Ahane.

A plaque in Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, commemorating Canon Patrick Devaney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Further renovations were carried out in the late 1960s following the liturgical changes introduced by Vatican II, and in 1977 under the parish priest, Father John Cooney. The renovations in 1977 were designed by a local architect, PJ Leyden. They cost £45,000, and the chief contractor was Michael Cusack.

During these changes, a new altar and sacristy were added, and ‘a considerable donation’ was given towards the cost of the organ. During these renovations, once again, Mass was celebrated in the school in Ahane.

When Bishop Michael Harty rededicated Saint Patrick’s Church, he referred to the ‘island parish of Ahane,’ for Castleconnell and Ahane form one parish, and this is the only parish in Co Limerick within the Diocese of Killaloe.

A storm on Christmas Eve 1997 blew the cross to the ground, and it was replaced with a Cross bought in Co Roscommon. Dan Richardson, who died on 15 December 1998, bequeathed bells to the church.

The west window in the gallery in Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
78, the Ascension and Saint George, Panormos

The Church of the Ascension and Saint George in Panormos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Sunday (2 May 2021) was Easter Day in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, and this week is Easter Week. I miss the opportunity of being in Greece at this special time of year, so my photographs this week are from churches in Crete.

Until the pandemic lockdown, I have been visiting Rethymnon almost every year since the 1980s. My photographs this morning (5 May 2021) are from the Church of the Ascension and Saint George in Panormos, east of Rethymnon.

For some years, it has been something of a tradition during holidays in Rethymnon to spend lazy, sunny Sunday afternoons in the small coastal village of Panormos, visiting the church dedicated to the Ascension and Saint George, and enjoying lingering lunches in the restaurants, including the Agkyra, Porto Parasiris and Captain’s House.

These lunches often become hours of uninterrupted bliss, sipping coffee, reading books and watching life in the small harbour and beaches below.

The recently built church in Panormos is dedicated to the Ascension (Analipsi) and Saint George (Agios Georgios) and it has a splendid dome with a modern, majestic fresco of Christ the Pantocrator.

Behind the village are the remains of the Agia Sophia Basilica, once one of the largest basilicas in Crete. The site is fenced off and there are few signs indicating its importance. The basilica was built in the fifth and sixth centuries. According to archaeologists, this was the seat of the Diocese of Eleftherna, which transferred there after the destruction of the ancient city of Panormos. In time, the name Agia Sophia was given to the entire area around the basilica.

The Basilica of Agia Sofia was uncovered following research by the theologian Konstantinos Kalokiris, and the site was excavated in 1948-1955 by the archaeologist Professor N. Platonas.

Christ Pantocrator in the dome of the Church of Aghios Georgios in Panormos on Easter afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 1-8 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’

Inside Saint George’s Church in Panormos, between Rethymnon and Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (5 May 2021, International Midwives Day) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for new life, and those who work to ensure its protection. We pray for nurses and midwives across the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The site of the Basilica of Aghia Sofia is a five-minute walk from the village of Panormos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A hush descends on the cobbled streets of Panormos on Easter afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)